Critical thinking is one of the most demanded soft skills today yet is one of the most difficult to develop.
According to an article from The Wall Street Journal, the students and graduates of the most prestigious universities show little or no improvement in their critical thinking abilities during the university career.
Critical thinking ranks among the most demanded skills for job candidates, however very few applicants for a job have actually developed it.
Most employers lack an effective way to objectively assess critical thinking skills, while HR departments frequently don’t know how to provide specific instruction to team members who need to become better critical thinkers.
4 stages to start fostering critical thinking
The development of critical thinking can be divided into four measurable stages: execution, synthesis, recommendation and generation.
1. Execution stage
If the team members are new or have never been put in situations which requires them to think for themselves, they are likely to be in the execution stage. In this phase, team members simply do what they are asked to do.
Critical thinking is composed of a series of skills: verbal reasoning, decision-making and problem solving. You can start by giving employees smaller and simpler tasks which should be completed in a more immediate deadline. Once they have started work, ask them to explain what they are doing, how they are doing it and why they are doing things that way. Once team members are able to make suggestions on how to improve their work they are ready for the next stage.
Questions to evaluate the execution stage
- Do employees complete all parts of their tasks?
- Do they complete them on time?
- Do they complete them with the expected quality standard?
2. Synthesis stage
In this second phase, team members learn to classify a variety of information and to identify what is important. Synthesis is a skill that grows with practice: you can train employees by asking them to share their conclusions after a call with a client, or after a work meeting.
If employees are still struggling to identify what is important at this point, you can try to guide them through thought experiments with limited resources which force them to isolate the most important information.
The relevant issue at this stage is that workers be able to provide a summary of the important ideas and implications of a specific situation for their future work.
Questions to evaluate the synthesis stage
- Can employees identify all the important ideas?
- Are they able to exclude all irrelevant perceptions?
- Do they accurately assess the relative importance of every idea?
- Can they communicate the most important ideas clearly?
3. Recommendation stage
Team members should evolve from identifying what is important to determining what should be done: at this stage they should be able to make informed recommendations, even if their recommendations do not align with their boss’ opinion.
You can evaluate employees’ progress by asking them to make recommendations before listening to the leader’s opinion. Specifically, ask them to share their reasons, the alternatives they considered and the disadvantages of their recommendations: this will make them effort to do more than simply share the first idea that comes to mind.
The important thing about this stage is that employees be able to make reasonable recommendations that reflect good business judgment regarding their own work and that of others.
Questions to evaluate the recommendation stage
- Do employees evaluate the possible inconveniences of their recommendations?
- Do they consider alternatives before making a recommendation?
- Are there recommendations backed by strong and sensible reasoning?
4. Generation stage
In this phase team members must be able to create something out of nothing: the goal is to make them experts in translating the company’s vision into projects that can be executed.
To help team members to move forward in this phase, you will often have to be a model for this kind of thinking for them. You can invite them to observe and participate in your own generative process and ask them to make a list of their own ideas to improve a specific project, an area of the organization, or the organization as a whole, and ask them to share those ideas.
Questions to evaluate the generation stage
- Do employees suggest high-value actions which job doesn’t logically follow the work you are already doing?
- Can they turn their vision and that of others into feasible plans?